Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Queering the Modern

[My last gay studies course, Queering the Modern, ended in January 2013. I used this anthology of quotations to give students an idea of the context and potential scope of the course. I think it makes an interesting narrative in itself.] 

(All of these quotations are taken out of context.  They are included here, not as complete arguments in themselves, but to give a flavour of debates taking place within the period of this module.)

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) in The Descent of Man (1871):
‘Man with all his noble qualities ... still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.’

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900):
‘God is dead: but considering the state the species Man is in, there will perhaps be caves, for ages yet, in which his shadow will be shown.’

Karl Marx (1818-1883):
‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.’

Károly Mária Kertbeny (1824-1882), writing in 1869:
‘In addition to the normal sexual urge in men and women, Nature in her sovereign mood had endowed at birth certain male and female individuals with the homosexual urge, thus placing them in a sexual bondage which renders them physically and psychically incapable—even with the best intention—of normal erection.  This urge creates in advance a direct horror of the opposite sex, and the victim of this passion finds it impossible to suppress the feeling which individuals of his own sex exercise upon him.’
[This passage, translated from the German, contains the first published use of the term ‘homosexual’ (‘Homosexuel’).]

Friedrich Engels to Karl Marx (22 June 1869):
The paederasts are beginning to count themselves and find that they make up a power in the state.  Only the organization is lacking, but according to this [Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’ booklet Incubus] it already exists in secret … It is only luck that we are personally too old to have to fear that on the victory of this party we must pay the victors bodily tribute.  But the young generation!’

John Addington Symonds, A Problem in Modern Ethics (1891):
‘If we cannot alter your laws, we will go on breaking them.’

Oscar Wilde, on trial in 1895, referring to letters he had written to Lord Alfred Douglas:
‘“The love that dare not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare.  It is that deep, spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect.  It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are.  It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as “the love that dare not speak its name,” and on account of it I am placed where I am now.  It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection.  There is nothing unnatural about it.  It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, where the elder has intellect and the younger has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him.  That it should be so, the world does not understand.  The world mocks at it and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.’

Oscar Wilde:
‘The world is slowly growing more tolerant and one day men will be ashamed of their barbarous treatment of me, as they are now ashamed of the torturings of the Middle Ages.’

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), speaking of his lover, George Merrill:
‘On one occasion he was standing at the door of our cottage, looking down the garden brilliant in the sun, when a missionary sort of man arrived with a tract and wanted to put it in his hand.  “Keep your tract,” said George.  “I don’t want it.”  “But don’t you wish to know the way to heaven?” said the man.  “No I don’t,” was the reply, “can you see that we’re in heaven here—we don’t want any better than this, so go away!”  And the man turned and fled.’

Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935):
‘Beneath the duality of sex there is a oneness.  Every male is potentially a female and every female potentially a male.  If a man wants to understand a woman, he must discover the woman in himself, and if a woman would understand a man, she must dig in her own consciousness to discover her own masculine traits.’

Futurist Manifesto, written by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1909):
‘We will destroy museums, libraries, and fight against moralism, feminism, and all utilitarian cowardice. […] We will glorify war—the only true hygiene of the world—[and] the beautiful ideas which kill.’

Henry Ford (1863-1947):
‘History is more or less bunk.  It’s tradition.  We don’t want tradition.  We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.’ (Chicago Tribune, 25 May 1916)

James Joyce (1882-1941), in Ulysses, referring to the character Stephen Dedalus, based on himself:
‘“History,” Stephen said, “is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”’ 

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities (Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften), volume one (1930):
‘From the moment Ulrich set foot in engineering school, he was feverishly partisan.  Who still needed the Apollo Belvedere when he had the new forms of a turbodynamo or the rhythmic movements of a steam engine’s pistons before his eyes!’

Le Corbusier (1887-1965):
‘A house is a machine for living in.’

Mina Loy, ‘Feminist Manifesto’ (November 1914):
‘Men & women are enemies, with the enmity of the exploited for the parasite, the parasite for the exploited ... [T]he first self-enforced law for the female sex, as a protection against the man made bogey of virtue, which is the principal instrument of her subjection, would be the unconditional surgical destruction of virginity throughout the female population at puberty ... For the harmony of the race, each individual should be the expression of an easy & ample interpenetration of the male & female temperaments—free of stress.’

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941):
‘Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.’

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965):
‘Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.’

Marcel Proust (1871-1922) in Sodome et Gomorrhe I, 1921:
‘I have thought it as well to utter here a provisional warning against the lamentable error of proposing ... to create a Sodomist movement and to rebuild Sodom.  For, no sooner had they arrived there than the Sodomites would leave the town so as not to have the appearance of belonging to it, would take wives, keep mistresses in other cities where they would find, incidentally, every diversion that appealed to them.  They would repair to Sodom only on days of supreme necessity, when their own town was empty, at those seasons when hunger drives the wolf from the woods; in other words, everything would go on very much as it does to-day in London, Berlin, Rome, Petrograd or Paris.’

René Crevel (1900-1935) in La Mort Difficile (1926):
‘As long as people think it’s a vice, as long as they are looking for an amusing spectacle or at the very least an assortment of strange quirks which it is their pleasure to judge reprehensible but rare, like Oscar Wilde’s orchids, then the reaction is one of respectful interest.  But let someone come along whose sufferings in love are not betrayed by comical eccentricities or increased either by social persecution or the threat of prison or the dictates of fashion, but a man whose sufferings are wordless and quietly eat him up inside, people who were hoping for outlandish scenes, spicy anecdotes, scandalous gossip, will never forgive the commonplace simplicity of such a passion.’

André Breton (1896-1966) in his magazine Surrealist Revolution in 1928:
‘I accuse the homosexuals of affronting human tolerance with a mental and moral defect that tends to advocate itself as a way of life and paralyze every enterprise I respect.  I make exceptions, one of which I grant to the incomparable Marquis de Sade.’

Colette (1873-1954) in The Pure and the Impure (1932, 1941):
‘The seduction emanating from a person of uncertain or dissimulated sex is powerful.’

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), on visiting an exhibition of children’s drawings:
‘When I was their age I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like them.’

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971):
‘My music is best understood by children and animals.’  (October 1961)

Walt Disney (1901-1966):
‘Girls bored me—they still do.  I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I’ve ever known.’

Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937):
‘When we have found how the nucleus of atoms are built-up we shall have found the greatest secret of all—except life.  We shall have found the basis of everything—of the earth we walk on, of the air we breathe, of the sunshine, of our physical body itself, of everything in the world, however great or however small—except life.’

Albert Einstein (1879-1955):
‘When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second.  When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour.  That’s relativity.’

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973):
‘The genius of Einstein leads to Hiroshima.’

Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956), in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948):
‘The world is not divided into sheep and goats.  Not all things are black nor all things white.  It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories.  Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes.  The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.  The sooner we learn this concerning sexual behavior the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.’

In a public discussion at the Western Round Table in 1949, arguing against Modernism in the visual arts, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright asked ‘if this movement which we call modern art and painting has been greatly, or is greatly, in debt to homosexualism’.  In response, the artist Marcel Duchamp agreed that this had probably been the case, but he clearly felt that modern art was all the better for it.  He added: ‘I believe that the homosexual public has shown more interest [in] or curiosity for modern art than the heterosexual.’

André Gide (1869-1951):
‘It is better to be hated for what one is than loved for what one is not.’

Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye (1953):
Wade says to Marlowe: ‘The queer is the artistic arbiter of our age, chum. The pervert is the top guy now.’

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